Saturday's 1st Annual Annapolis Food & Wine Festival was a celebration of local flavors, tasty creations, and sheer population.
The one-day event, held at participating restaurants throughout downtown Annapolis, drew a mammoth crowd on what was a crisp, sunny autumn afternoon. Maybe it was the beautiful day. Or the relatively-affordable $35 ticket price. Or the fact that the concept is so alluring. But it was quite popular, with throngs of people throughout the historic district.
The promise was intriguing. A $35 ticket entitled you to culinary and vintner samples at more than a dozen sponsor restaurants, from Hell Point Seafood on the City Dock, to Wild Orchid Café on West St. The event was planned for the 2pm-6pm window, so as to not compete with lunch or dinner rush. Several restaurateurs involved stated that they'd been expecting in the neighborhood of 200-250 total visitors, but according to event creator and Annapolis resident Jim Barthold, attendance was closer to 2,000. "We knew we needed to do at least 500 tickets from a break even standpoint," said Barthold, "and were hoping to have somewhere in the area of 1,000 tickets sold. We ended up just about doubling that."
Impressive and encouraging for a first-time event as the attendance was, it also created significant logistical problems. Virtually all participating establishments had lines at their doors for the majority of the four-hour event. Disgruntled ticketholders complained about having to wait to enter each venue, as owners and managers scrambled to accommodate the unexpected masses as best as they could.
"Many of the participating restaurants were very pleased with the turnout, but some were overwhelmed by the turnout," acknowledged Barthold.
The concept itself was a success. It brought thousands of people downtown at a time of year when things can be a bit tepid before the pre-holiday rush. "We definitely saw an increase in business, and people downtown in general, with the Festival and the Eastport Tug of War," said Kathy Stanfield, owner of Brown Eyed Girl on Main St. "Unfortunately, a lot of the feedback we heard about the event was negative though."
So, what can be done to improve things for next year?
Jim Barthold already has several ideas. "I want to get the restaurant owners more involved with the planning process, and possibly create a planning committee with them. If we can also increase the number of participating restaurants, we'd be better able to handle the larger crowds."
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